1:1 Supporters: How do we respond to this?

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Cross posted on 1 to 1 Schools

As a principal who promotes new models of teaching and learning with technology I frequently get asked, “How do you know that the use of technology helps students learn? Can you show me research?” I have a variety of answers and I can provide them with several research studies showing positive results. But, recently, someone shared this research report with me and I am trying to figure out how to react and respond. How would you respond to these findings?

The article entitled

Evaluation of Alternative Delivery Systems on Academic Performance in College Algebra by Wynegar, Robert G.; Fenster, Mark J. shows, ” that the traditional lecture delivery system had the highest grade point average and one of the lowest failing rates of all teaching strategies.”

The study took 3 groups of community college students who were taking College Algebra and put them into three different classes.

“Both online and televised variations of College Algebra were created and offered. Web support pages for on-campus sections were created and filled with thirty hours of streaming real-media and mimeo lectures, practice tests for each chapter, and quizzes for each section of the text. A course guide containing more than one hundred pages of worked examples, study tips, and additional support was written, and has been sold as a supplement to the course. Supplemental instruction and peer tutoring programs have been implemented to support College Algebra. Additionally, the math department established experimental sections of College Algebra that would abandon the text and internally developed support materials for the course in favor of a computer-aided instruction (CAI) model.”

The students in the traditional lecture class outperformed their peers in both the computer aided instruction (CAI) model and the online and television model. This is even after they controlling for differences in teacher grading. The articles finishes with the following statement.

“These results have implications for the way institutions schedule and deliver curriculum. CAI courses are held in computer labs which cap the number of students in a class. Traditional lecture courses are able to serve more students. Not only do students perform better in a traditional lecture course, as measured by final grade, but institutions of higher education can deliver instruction more efficiently on a per student cost using traditional lecture.”

Help! I need to better understand how to respond to these types of studies.

Image Credit: The Lecture Bored me to Death

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4 comments

  1. Interesting study but the first thought that comes to mind when I read this is that the students that have made it to college algebra classes are the ones who have been aptly able to learn by traditional methods. We all have individual learning styles and preferences and more traditional approaches do suit some students better. These are the students who usually succeed in school either because the traditional methods used in many classes suit their learning style (or because they have successfully learnt to learn by this method). By the time they get into college, their learning style has predominantly been catered to for most of their education and the traditional approach used in this study is probably going to be more effective because it still caters to their learning style.

    CAI offers an alternate form of instruction which will suit some students better. Maybe these are the ones that traditional methods have long forgotten, perhaps the students who have struggled, or been unengaged, or disinterested. These may be the ones that we (and they) thought just don’t get it, but maybe they can get it, just not the way we traditionally teach it. It’s not going to suit all students and the outcry will be that little Johnny was always a good student and now he’s not doing well because of the ‘new method’…but at the same time, little Janie always struggled but now she’s doing brilliantly because the new method suits her so much better! Can we find a balance between the two or do we offer students alternatives?

    This study is based on the Johnnys of the world being thrown into an environment that they are both unaccustomed to and one which is potentially converse to their learning preferences but we can’t forget the Janies. I’d like to see the study done again in 10 years after Janie has had her learning style catered to for most of her school life. I’m sure the results would be different.

  2. In my experience the best way to respond to these types of studies is to ask more questions. I, too, read the report and found the results misleading and not directly related to a 1:1 learning community, if we are use this to inform how we can best support students in preparing for their future. This certainly speaks to the need of not just turning on a tool and handing over all responsibility to the students to tackle deep understanding on their own. In terms of these three methods of delivery, I do imagine there were better student results, as measured by a final grade, through a lecture format. However, I question whether there was authentic application of the learning. I question how the different mediums of delivery supported deeper levels of critical thought and collaboration. I question how these three mediums would compare to a project-based model.I question what is the power of any one single method of delivery. I question how transferable the learning was to other levels of mathematics and what strategies students developed as learners that would serve them outside of math classroom and in their future. The study concluded, “Not only do students perform better in a traditional lecture course, as measured by a final grade, but institutions of higher education can deliver instruction more efficiently on a per student cost using traditional lecture.” I suppose if our indicators of success are determined by a final grade, efficiency and the cost of a course, long live the lecture. I, for one, hope education lives up to higher ideals than to offset costs and efficiency.

  3. I would consider this research report as just one tiny stone in a much bigger pile and as one aspect of the whole learning spectrum, which includes varied learning styles and outcomes.
    From a pure research design perspective, it was not clear to me whether all students (lecture or online only) had access to what they called improvements to the course, like online resources and quizzes and peer tutoring, etc. That would have been a strong variable.
    They also did not say how much the failing rate improved (or not) from the initial condition, identified as critical. If raised for all delivery methods in a similar proportion, then all have benefits.
    This would leave the question of why lecture had the best rate, maybe explained by student familiarity with the approach. As they do not describe how students were prepared (or not) for a different learning method.
    To make better judgment it would be necessary to have access to a more detailed report or paper.
    Also, I would consider a whole selection of research in this area, to create a better big picture. Maybe someone has a little theory going around that tries to put all research into perspective.

  4. A question looming in my mind is the “teacher variable.” We still need teachers in the education formula. Like the last comment stated, I am curious and will try and find a more detailed report. I have suspicions that the alternative delivery models didn’t have the teacher involved as much, but of course, I will need to read more. The bottom line with 1-1 laptop learning or any with increased use of mobile devices is that the teacher is still the Chief Learning Officer that coaches and guides the apprentices in the classroom.

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